Highly-rated New Zealand swing pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult will look to put the hosts’ new-look batting lineup to the sword at the Gabba from Thursday as the tourists chase their first series win in Australia for 30 years.
Without a series triumph in Australia since the halcyon days of Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe in 1985, the Black Caps clearly sense a weakness in Steve Smith’s untested team following a raft of retirements.
The post-Ashes departures of former skipper Michael Clarke along with stalwarts Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris have forced selectors to redraft Australia’s batting, but there are questions over the replacements.
Apart from Smith and his deputy David Warner, the rest of Australia’s batsmen can muster only a combined 29 Test appearances between Joe Burns (two), Usman Khawaja (nine), Adam Voges (seven), Peter Nevill (four) and Mitchell Marsh (seven).
That makes the Australians vulnerable, particularly if speedsters Southee and Boult get their act together on the bouncy, seaming Gabba pitch.
That might be easier said than done however as Australia reign supreme at the Brisbane ground where they have not lost a Test match since 1988, to Viv Richards’ mighty West Indies.
The Black Caps have lost six and drawn one of the seven Tests in Queensland since their last win at the Gabba in 1985 when they went on to take the series 2-1.
But the Kiwis are much-improved under the positive leadership of Brendon McCullum and have lost just three of their last 17 Tests, beating England by 199 runs at Headingley to square their series last June.
Key to the Black Caps’ improvement has been the twin pace attack of Southee and Boult.
Southee has taken 144 wickets in 41 Tests at 31.63, while left-armer Boult has 123 wickets from 32 Tests at 27.12.
The Black Caps can also call on seamer Doug Bracewell, who captured a match-winning six for 40 in New Zealand’s thrilling seven-run win over the Australians at their last Test meeting in Hobart almost four years ago.
– ‘Sense of excitement’ –
While Australia have a strong new-ball attack of Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and either Josh Hazlewood or Peter Siddle, much will come down to whether the home side score the runs to put pressure on the Kiwis.
“The young blokes haven’t been grabbing their opportunities recently and that is why we have had all these 30-year-olds (Voges) making their debut,” former Test skipper Ian Chappell said.
“But because of the retirements now they’ve got to start choosing some young blokes, it is up to them, they have to make the most of it.
“In some ways it (retirements) may be a good thing — the young blokes are forced to do it.”
Also part of the selectors’ thinking in choosing Burns and Khawaja is that both play regularly on the Gabba pitch, something the Kiwi batsmen will have to master.
Southee, who took four for 63 in the first innings at the Gabba seven years ago, said the Black Caps were ready for a tough challenge.
“There’s certainly a sense of excitement around the group, especially since we’ve arrived in Brisbane,” Southee said.
“Everyone is looking forward to getting amongst it. I think we’ve still got to know it’s going to be a tough challenge. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought series.
“If we do our things right, it goes a long way to us doing what we came over here to achieve.”
Australia – David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle.
New Zealand – Brendon McCullum (capt), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Mark Craig, Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.
Umpires: Nigel Llong (ENG) Richard Illingworth (ENG)
TV umpire: Sundaram Ravi (IND)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)